Arsenal of Democracy
by John Thompson and Chad Pittman
In one of his fireside chats delivered on December 29, 1940, President Franklin Delano promised to help the United Kingdom fight Nazi Germany by giving them the military supplies rather than troops. He called this strategy his “arsenal of democracy.”
His promise could be fairly questioned on its merits. In the year before Pearl Harbor, America has the 18th largest Army behind such nations as Holland and Hungary. The U.S. Navy and War Departments struggled to adequately supply the fight in
World War I and congress was unmotivated to spend spare resources following a decade of the Great Depression. Churchill may very well have wondering what, if any, value would come of FDR’s words.
Over the course of the next year, two remarkable things happened: one tragic and the other magnificent. Of course the tragedy occurred on December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor which turned our nation from bystanders to active participants in the war effort. Without much notice, the preceding year between FDR’s promise to arm the Allies and the Pearl Harbor attack, American production of war materials had already gained pace with Nazi Germany.
Indeed, by the end of World War II, 70% of the Allies wartime material was produced in American factories. It would become one of the greatest private sector achievements of the 20th century.
Aware that the solution did not reside within Washington, DC, FDR called American business to come to the rescue. It was an unusual request. FDR had used criticism of industrial America to win his first two president elections. He campaigned vigorously with the message that business had caused and then furthered the Depression.
Now he found himself on the phone with Henry Ford’s former right and current head of General Motors asking William “Big Bill” Knudsen to take an unpaid position in his administration rallying American business to do something it had never done before: make tanks, war planes and other materials necessary to win the war effort.
Knudsen’s response was an immediate “yes” and the results are staggering. In merely a handful of years, American business went from standing still to constructing 280,000 war planes, 8,800 warships (including 5 aircraft carriers per month), 86,000 tanks, 3.5 million trucks, 2.5 million machine guns and 41 billion rounds of ammunition.
To underscore the ingenuity of the American private sector, consider that the machine guns were produced by such companies as Remington Typewriter, National Postage Meter and the Rock-Ola juke box manufacturing company. Virtually every war plane that was built used designs in company draw- ers prior to WW II. The TBM Avenger flown by George H.W. Bush was built by Knudsen’s old company, General Motors.
This remarkable story is vividly captured in a book by historian Arthur Herman called Freedom’s Forge. It is also a prologue to the State of Indiana’s story captured in the preceding pages. To reach a new state of military readiness in the 21st century, Indiana business has risen to the occasion.
In Lt. Governor Skillman’s article, you read that state economic development can be a helpful companion to enhancing our nation’s security. As she notes, our state had fewer than 400 defense contractors in 2001 with total contracts valued at $1.8 billion. By 2010, 1,136 Hoosier businesses had received 9,889 federal defense contracts amounting to $4 billion.
For every 10 jobs with an Indiana defense contractor, an additional 11 jobs were created elsewhere in the state. Defense-related economic activity in Indiana generated $375 million in federal revenues in 2010 alongside $240 million in state and local collections.
Indiana business stands ready to help protect our state and nation. It is the highest form of public-private partnership and we are grateful to be able to add a new chapter to a proud American tradition.
John Thompson is a board member of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and chairman of the National Center for Complex Operations.
Chad Pittman is executive vice president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation who served a one-year deployment in Iraq with the Indiana Army National Guard.
War in the 21st Century
American Security Post 9-11
The Business of Defense
Lessons from Petraeus
A State of Defense
The Evolution of Modern Warfare and the Dancing Landscapes of National Security
Q & A with Vice Admiral Michael Bucchi: On Modern Warfare and the Hoosier State
In Consideration of Unmanned Systems for Security, Markets and Citizens
Boiler Up...Way Up: A Glance at Purdue's contribution to America's Space Program
Well Done, Indiana
Arsenal of Democracy